A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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★★★★1/2

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Publisher: Viking

Release Date: 12th March 2013

Pages: 422

Genre: Adult/Magical Realism

Buy: Amazon

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In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. – GR

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HUGE, HUGE TRIGGER WARNING FOR SUICIDE. The book deals heavily with this topic and talks about it in detail so if you are sensitive to it, please proceed with caution. Take care of yourselves.

With that said, I loved this book.

Nao is a very flawed, very old-in-her-ways, suicidal, depressed teenage girl living in Tokyo in the 2000s, having to deal with intense bullying, a suicidal father, and her own self-loathing. Reading her story was as heartbreaking as it was addictive – I just didn’t want to stop reading to see what happened to her. Nao’s relationships are so interesting, because they are strained and flawed, and real. She makes terrible mistakes in those relationships, takes people for granted and pushes them away, but that’s what makes her character arc so impactful.

The clever thing about this book is the way it is structured. We find out about Nao through the diary entry Ruth finds, so everything we hear of her story is skewed to her perspective, making her a very unreliable narrator. But that isn’t what makes it so interesting and engaging. What kept me excited throughout was that when Ruth stopped reading, we stopped reading, and we follow Ruth through her day as she thinks about what we’ve both read. As she’s itching to get back to reading, we are itching to get back to reading. I had the exact conflict as Ruth, deciding whether to pace myself through Nao’s story or skip right to the end because I had to know if she was okay.

The writing was what I weirdly found to be almost cinematic? Ruth Ozeki has this way of writing that seems like you’re watching it on the big screen in ultra HD, like you’re right there with the characters. I’ll give you an example:

‘We were right in the middle of Tokyo, but when you got close to the temple, it was like stepping into a pocket of ancient humid air, which had somehow gotten preserved like a bubble in ice, with all the sounds and smells still trapped inside.’

How beautiful is that?

I will definitely be looking out for more by Ruth Ozeki.

PS: This cover is compatible with an app called Blippar, where you place your camera over the book and the cover becomes animated where you can find author interviews and have the first sentence read to you! It’s so cool!


Have you read A Tale for the Time Being? Let me know in a comment and we can chat!

2 thoughts on “A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

  1. […] I really, really enjoyed this one. I received this for my birthday from my librarian aunty (hell yeah, guys, hell yeah), so I knew it was going to be good. I love the plot and setting of this book. Half of the novel is set in Japan, which was so interesting as I’ve always wanted to go there, but it wasn’t Japan through the tourist lens. I go into more in my review but this book is atmospheric, thought-provoking, and definitely addictive. Review review. […]

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